There is no ‘bucket list’ - Lynne and I are both well, thank you – but we have arrived at a point in our lives where we have the time, the money and the good health to indulge in a passion for travel. We know how lucky and privileged we are to be able to do this, and we know it won’t last for ever, but while it does…..



Monday, 9 July 2012

Dunstable and the Olympic Torch

Dunstable is a deeply unlovely town. We first drove through it five years ago and at first glance the place felt wrong. I have been there many times since and still struggle to find anything to like about it. It is not the people, by and large they seem as decent as anywhere else, nor is the town especially poor or down at heel; indeed some regard it as the posh end of Luton (though that may say more about Luton than it does about Dunstable). It is not even that the buildings are especially ugly, well not all of them. It is the ensemble that is wrong, the way they are put together.


The charms of Dunstable

Dunstable has at least one building in every architectural style from  medieval to last week, and they have been plonked down side by side with no attempt at harmony, no thought as to how they may look among their neighbours. It makes Dunstable seem sad and unloved. I feel sorry for the current town planners; it all went wrong so long ago there is no way back now, no non-apocalyptic exit to their blind alley. Perhaps John Betjeman’s ‘friendly bombs’ should have been aimed at Dunstable, not Slough.


Banks can go bust in unison, but they can't co-ordinate their buldings
Barclays and Lloyds TSB, Dunstable

We are staying nearby, cat sitting while daughter, son-in-law and infant are on holiday. I drove them to the airport yesterday (you can drive to Luton airport without ever encountering Luton, which is a blessing).

This morning they were in Rome, Lynne and I were in Dunstable. Where would I rather be? Which would I rather be writing about? But Rome has been extensively chronicled by great writers, inconsequential bloggers and everybody in between, so what is there to add? And today Dunstable has something else, something Rome has not seen for over fifty years. Today Dunstable has the Olympic Torch.

Having missed the torch twice when it was much closer to home, we made an effort this time and were in Dunstable High Street by 6.15. The torch was not due for an hour and a half, but we wanted a good spot, and we wanted to be in the front.

And, to give them their due, the good people of Dunstable turned out in their thousands, lining the High Street several deep for as far as the eye could see. And as they were the ‘good people’ why was there such a huge police presence? They arrived by the minibus load, they arrived on motorbikes, they arrived in marked and unmarked police cars  and they hovered overhead in a helicopter. There were enough of them to deal with a riot, but the worst that was ever going to happen was a little dropping of litter, and that mostly by accident rather than malice.


The crowds begin to gather
Dunstable High Street

The staff of the local branch of Lloyds TSB were busy unrolling a banner, handing out balloons and ensuring that everybody who wanted had green and yellow ribbons to wave – by sheer co-incidence Lloyds TSB colours.

Nothing happened for quite a long time. The road was eventually closed to traffic, though the occasional police car drove by, their occupants waving to the crowd as though they were the attraction.

Then nothing happened again. At 7.40, right on time, a flurry of police motorcycles – enough outriders to bring a smile to the face of a third world dictator – heralded the advent of the sponsor’s floats.  I have mentioned one of them already (because of their local effort), but I have no intention of naming the others.


Plenty of police outriders
Dunstable High Street

Another wait, then more out-riders, and finally the torch arrived. The torch bearers are variously celebrities, athletes and people who have contributed something to the local community. The girl with the torch was not a celebrity (as far as I know – the world seems full of ‘celebrities’ I have never heard of) and did not move like an athlete, so we gave her a cheer for being a good citizen. And then she was gone and it was all over.
 
At last the Olympic Torch
Dunstable High Street

I am glad we went to see it, fleeting as it was, and I am looking forward to the Olympics, though I only intend to watch it on television. I hope it will, in the end, be about the community and the athletes, but it is well on the way to being hijacked by the sponsors and the police.

As we left Dunstable I wondered if the best use of the torch might have been to burn the place down and start again. Sadly the wettest June on record had given way to an equally damp July - it would be nigh on impossible to set fire to anything.

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